Hang gliding, like life lived well, requires timely preparation, careful observation, and decisive action. Sometimes in the summer there will only be a short window of opportunity to catch a ride to the clouds. Success depends on the readiness to catch it. The time is often indicated by signs like swifts chasing bugs in the rising air, hawks and vultures climbing without a flap, or a hang glider's third consecutive circle. There will often be no better invitation, so the pilot who misses the signs or waits for more will regularly end a rather brief flight in the LZ watching those who didn't fly away. These qualities were in evidence Sunday, when one pilot was able to fly out of the state while the rest of us couldn't manage to fly out of sight.
The weekend began more generous to the general population. Saturday dawned postfrontal and sunny with a steady wind out of the northwest. Velocity increased through the morning. Jeff Dodgen launched sufficiently early to have had enough by mid day. It was a smart decision as the cloud cover increased with velocity, effectively shutting down convection and our high altitude ambitions. Curly Dunn, Katie Dunn, Mark Furst, Steve Lee, Kathy Lee, and Tom Prouhet launched in the strong but laminar air and proceeded to park and point. Occasional circling with a quick drift eventually earned them a reported max altitude gain of around 2000 over. Steve, Kathy, and Tom flew to the end of the valley and landed at Marion County Airport. Lori Allen and I waited until velocity decreased slightly late in the afternoon and flew the "wonder" wind ("Wonder when it's going to settle down"). By then the north cross was pronounced and the flight was an exercise in pointing and parking. Excitement was restored in the rowdy ride to the LZ. Boredom was preferable.
Winds for Sunday were forecast light out of the northeast. It was actually still blowing in (NW) lightly at launch through mid day, but the clouds were over the back. By the time we were setup the breeze had all but stopped and we knew it was only a matter of time before it started blowing down. Steve got ready first, perched on the ramp, and waited for a sign. Within minutes a turkey buzzard was spotted circling low out front to the left. Soon another left the ridge to join him. Their climb was drifting away, but when they broke the horizon Steve started his pursuit. Kathy launched shortly behind him and scratched valiantly in everything she could find, but ultimately searched lower and lower as Steve slowly inched his way out of the valley. Philip Dabney and Dennis Felts followed her and worked light lift in the gap on their way to the field. Kathy's last chance was a promising thermal over the Austin's recently hayed field, but it never developed and she eventually landed there. I found no better than Philip or Dennis over the gap, ran to Kathy's thermal, found it, worked it, and landed right next to her. Thanks to the Austins for offering us a ride!
In the mean time, Steve climbed to about 3000 over just south of Dunlap. When he said he'd be landing soon, Kathy left to retrieve him. When she arrived at his last reported position he was still flying, so she returned to retrieve me. We resumed the chase in time to hear him report position at Marion County Airport and direct us toward Kimball. By the time we got there he was on his way to Bridgeport. We finally caught sight of him almost directly over Highway 72 at the Widows Creek power plant. He worked lift tenaciously there for a while, but thereafter was mostly on final glide. He was looking pretty closely at the fields when we passed the 1/2 mile sign to Stevenson, but Kathy encouraged him to continue on to Stevenson, insisting he could easily make the 1/2 mile. He eventually stretched the glide to pass Stevenson, cross a little backwater of the Tennessee River, and land in a pasture right next to the highway. Congratulations on a great flight, Steve!
The forecast calls for the best chance of rain Thursday. Best temp spread Friday with a low in the low 60s and a high in the low 80s. W to NW Friday or Saturday. N to NE and lighter Saturday or Sunday. See you in the sky!